True to form for The Vampire Diaries, a series regular's life hangs in the balance heading into Thursday's season finale. But unlike ever before, this time we know for sure that by the end of the hour, we're saying goodbye to Elena Gilbert regardless of whether she lives or dies.

Because the CW series is built for life after death and surprise returns are theoretically always on the table (hey Matt Davis!), executive producer Julie Plec says it was a balancing act to craft an end for Nina Dobrev's beloved character that was finite, but also moved the mythology along, paid tribute to Dobrev's six seasons and served the story going forward. The end result, she feels, does all that. "The [struggle was] how we celebrate this and make this feel as final as possible -- because it is final -- but also know we had certain things we were willing, or not willing, to do with that character," Plec tells TVGuide.com.

Nina Dobrev reflects on her incredible Vampire Diaries journey one last time before saying goodbye

Viewers will learn pretty early just how much destruction Kai (Chris Wood) caused when he so rudely interrupted Jo (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) and Alaric's nuptials mid-ceremony. Was Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Elena's walk down the aisle their last real moment together? Why did Bonnie (Kat Graham) and Matt (Zach Roerig) collapse simultaneously at the dungeon nearby? When will Stefan (Paul Wesley) make that "heart-fluttering" admission to Caroline (Candice Accola)? We took all those questions to Plec.

How soon will we learn everyone's fate following Kai's attack?
Julie Plec:
The aftermath and the consequences of the aftermath are instantaneous. By the end of the first commercial break, so much has happened and there have been so many terrible incidents that you'll have to catch your breath. You'll have to take a beat and pour a shot of whiskey to get through to the next. But there is an additional move revealed midway through the show where you realize, 'Oh this is what this is all about.' And then things just get sad. Sad and beautiful.

Mega Buzz: Will Caroline and Stefan get a happy ending on The Vampire Diaries?

Does what happened to Bonnie and Matt tie into what Kai did?
Plec: We'll learn the attack on them was timed to the attack on everyone else for a very specific reason.

With Elena's death seemingly on the table n the beginning of the episode, does that leave room for a lot of closure-giving scenes throughout?
Plec: Definitely. There's a whole sequence, essentially the last two acts of the show, where we found an elegant and graceful and beautiful way to weave the goodbyes for Elena all the way through every character on the show who has loved her through the years. I'm a big sap and I'm obviously biased, but it's incredibly beautiful and very nostalgic and sweet and sad and a really terrific 12 minutes of television.

Are there Damon and Elena scenes that will make people happy even if the end result is sad? Plec: With the exception of people who can only enjoy the show if their couple is together for all time, everyone else who has watched and loved the show over the years will feel very satisfied and very moved by the way we finish this character's journey.

Will there be any nostalgic moments for her?
Plec:
We made a very concerted effort to make every moment she has with all the characters speak to the history of those characters. If you've been a fan of the show since the beginning, there are a lot of elements and callbacks you'll recognize that I think people will find sweet and special. There is one scene, in particular, that crushes me. I smile and laugh and I cry. It's the most beautiful thing and it's a throwback all the way to Season 1.

Add new fall shows to your Watchlist!

Do you have your favorite Elena moment?
Plec:
I have a couple! The scene where she goes through the house after she realized Jeremy is dead and ultimately burns her house down. She comes down the stairs and starts dousing the house with gasoline and breaks down and turns her humanity off. That's one of my favorite scenes of all time. I also really love the scene in Season 1 when she and Stefan are about to get intimate and he's afraid to get close to her. She makes him show her his veins on his face and she touches him and tells him she's not afraid. I love that too.

After building the Damon and Elena relationship for so long, where does Damon go from here? We saw one version where he doesn't handle her death so well.
Plec:
You get a little tease of it. You get a little something to think about over the summer, but really, we'll dive into him and how he's feeling and what he's doing with his life in Season 7.

Will Stefan wait for Caroline to come around on a relationship?
Plec:
That's the question of the finale. What does he learn over the course of the finale that might lead him to a decision about how to pursue, or not pursue, this girl he clearly has feelings for?

Should we expect a cliff-hanger or does it feel like the end of a chapter?
Plec:
There's definitely still something to wet your whistle with for what's to come, a glimpse of the future, and we see what's become of our world without Elena Gilbert in it. It's a little tease to get you talking.

The Vampire Diaries finale airs on Thursday at 8/7c on The CW.

(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, one of The CW's parent companies.)